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President Bush Set to Depart on Five-Day Overseas Trip

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2003 – President Bush will discuss the Middle East peace process and rebuilding Iraq, among other issues, during a five-day overseas trip set to begin May 30, a top adviser said May 28.

The president will visit Poland, Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar before returning to Washington June 5, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in an afternoon press conference at the White House.

Highlights of the trip include a summit with the leaders of the Palestinian authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain June 3 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and a meeting the following day with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan.

"The president believes that this is a new opportunity for peace (in the Middle East) at the end of the war in Iraq, and particularly with changes in the Palestinian leadership," Rice said. She added that the Israeli government's acceptance of the administration's "road map" plan and recent comments Sharon has made are also promising steps.

But, Rice said, "this is going to be a long process, and it is going to have ups and downs as it always had."

In Qatar June 5, Bush will meet with Iraq's civil administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who commands operations in a broad area encompassing Afghanistan and Iraq, and visit coalition troops stationed in that tiny Gulf nation.

Rice noted the president is "particularly looking forward to" meeting with Bremer and Franks "to talk about how the reconstruction effort is going (in Iraq) and how we're going to discharge our responsibilities to the Iraqi people."

In response to a reporter's question about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Rice said the only way someone might believe the former regime had none is to "believe that Saddam Hussein was willing to live under sanctions for 12 years for no good reason."

"I just don't think that argument is credible," she added.

Also during this trip, Bush will join Russian President Vladimir Putin in celebrating the 300th anniversary of the city of St. Petersburg, Russia, and will speak to the people of Poland at that country's Vavel Castle. Also in Poland, he will visit the sites of Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The visit to Poland is "to honor the memory of innocents lost in the terror of the Third Reich and the Holocaust," Rice said, "and to remind us all of the dangers of evil unchecked."

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